First or Third?


First or third? First or third? First or third?

It is a questioning chant that most writers will face at some point in time. Should they use a first person narrative or a third?

Currently, I’m am working on a major edit of my novel and that is the question that I now face. To adjust the narrative to a first person, or continue with it third? Or even better, try the risky side of mixing the two. Possibly a close-in third person, while carrying a first person in regards to the main character.

It is decisions, such as these, that a writer must make. Though it may sound to the laymen like a small thing, the true writer knows that it can make or break a storyline. So, with that being said, how do you or I decide which narrative stance should be taken?

Up to this point, everything has been in third person narrative. Yet, I find myself with the desire to mix both first and third.

One method of deciding is to take a chapter and write it in both, send it out to a few people you trust. You will find that this doesn’t always help, since each reader has their own preferences. They will even offer up choices that you haven’t even thought of yet, which complicates the process even more.

I know this for a fact, since I’m still waiting for a few replies to come back and the results are very mixed, adding to the problem.

Now, even though I have it currently in third person, my option to rewrite the pieces are always there. I do not mind doing serious editing, as long as it will improve the piece.

At this point, let’s look at what the options mean.

A first person narrative will allow you to view inside the person’s mind an in turn bind the reader to the character even closer. A distinct positive there.

Of course on the other hand, you are then limited to the view of that character and what they can react too. Plus the ‘I’ always popping up can become redundant and bothersome. An autobiography can work well in first person, but what about an action/adventure? Suddenly you are limited in your options, due to the character having to be everywhere and involved in everything. This can become very staged an unbelievable with regards to forcing your character into this situation or that one, simply so you can tell an important detail.

Now, third person has it’s own benefits and drawbacks. These include, never truly expressing the characters emotional situations, due to never being able to express them as an individual. Your reader will always be the one looking in from just slightly outside the story. This lack of connection can destroy a story.

The positives include the ability to give greater details in many ways. The story, the character’s habits and actions, the variety of characters, etc. This diversity can truly create a multi-facted world, which the first person can leave behind.

The third option? Yes, there is a third option. It is to combine a first person for the main character and a third person for all others, including the general narrative. The very distinct issue with this is that the storyline can become convoluted and just simply hard to follow, as you bounce back and forth.

What is the solution?

That is the problem. There is no correct solution. What it comes down to is what format do you feel comfortable writing? Asking your friends, family and the person on the street will not give you the answer, but it can help you find one for yourself.

Yes, this is one of the frustrating little things that writers face. One amongst many.

As to my novel… Well, I have already written the majority of it in third person, so maybe I just need to bring the view in a little closer to the characters. That might be the cleanest solution.

Maybe that is the answer. Write in the cleanest version that conveys what you want to say. Maybe?


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